Well, we returned from our Italian trip two weeks ago, and I think we’re just about recovered & back to reality…! Last year, we went to a lovely 5* hotel in Tenerife and sat by a pool. We didn’t do an awful lot, and we also made use of the Baby Club on a number of occasions – but it was some great chill time in the sun with our Little. It was also the week Oscar decided to start walking, so it will always be memorable! However, the week was topped off by a 5 hour flight FROM HELL! Don’t ask. No, actually, I’ll tell you – he basically just screamed in our faces at point blank range for the duration of the flight and we spent the whole time standing with the cabin crew at the back door, hiding from every other human being on the plane. Yeah, was great.
ANYWAY… Fast forward to this year we decided on trying a different kind of holiday that was a little more adventurous. We’d talked about going to Italy and decided we would book our flights and then sort out a suitable route ourselves. We decided to fly into Pisa, spend a night there before moving onto Florence, a city that came highly recommended by friends and family. I’ll be honest though, once I started looking at accommodation, I went a little rogue, and without even consulting Robin I booked our Pisa accommodation, 3 nights in Florence and then three nights in a place I had never heard of until that day when I saw it on the Lonely Planet Facebook page and thought “jings, that looks cool” – Cinque Terre. We definitely learnt some things along the way, so I’ve highlighted my Toddler Tips with [TT]!
Florence is a beautiful city and fairly small and easy to navigate. Although, it possibly isn’t the best place for a toddler that is still slightly too young to let loose and expected to stay close, so poor Oscar ended up confined to his pram a lot of the time as it was just so busy. On our first full day in the city we decided to get passes for the hop on, hop off sightseeing bus as an easy way to get around main landmarks with a pram [TT] – this worked really well, and we got to soak up the stunning views from the Piazzale Michelangelo, which we probably would never have scaled by foot with the pram! We also used the bus to get to the Boboli Gardens for a picnic [TT] which was great to let Oscar explore and run riot (the selection of cheeses, cured meats and fresh produce in even the small city centre supermarkets in Florence are amazing – so our picnic was well stocked!) We even found a beautiful carousel in Piazza della Repubblica [TT] that Oscar loved – until it was time to get off. At 1€ a go, it’s just lovely!
Overall, and as expected, all the food was outstanding. We tended to snack a lot through the day to make sure Oscar was getting enough since he wasn’t eating full meals in the heat and everywhere you looked there were little sandwich & panini stalls and shops – I even managed to find a toastie as big as my head, what more could a gal want?! And then there was the gelato, well, it was amazing, even if we did pay 20€ for two tubs of the stuff on the Ponte Vecchio! We also enjoyed a Bistecca alla Fiorentina at a trattoria across from our apartment, cause ya know, when in Rome Florence…
For this trip, I had booked apartments and it definitely had it’s advantages. It meant Oscar had his own room so we could chill in the evenings without worrying about disturbing him and after the first night when a combination of travel, heat and tiredness must have got to him and he threw up sour milk and pizza all over his favourite bunny, it was great to have a washing machine on hand to sort the mess out!
We traveled between cities by train. An Italian colleague of mine put the fear into me days before we left when I told him we were travelling by train and he warned me to have a back up as the services were very unreliable – but it came as a huge relief when everything ran perfectly on schedule, which is better than they manage here a lot of the time!
Next stop – Cinque Terre.
It was lovely to step off the train and see the sea! It doesn’t really feel like a holiday until there’s a beach or a pool, does it? Shortly after I’d discovered Cinque Terre via Facebook and had a quick Google to find that it was relatively close to Florence, I searched some ‘travel with kids blogs’ and found recommendations of the best town to stay in. Cinque Terre literally means, Five Worlds and each world is a little town, but some are more accessible than others – I chose Riomaggiore, the first of the World’s, as our base.
If you’re thinking of travelling to Cinque Terre with a baby or toddler, be warned, it’s INCREDIBLY hilly. I’m talking steps everywhere and 45* hills, it’s not for the faint hearted, nor is it for a buggy…! We had ours with us and had fully intended on taking our baby carrier too [TT] but down to being wholly unorganised we couldn’t find it (in hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have left it until the day we were flying to look…!). Even our apartment was down a 30ft flight of windy, uneven, huge stairs, but, it had a great view – you win some, you lose some I suppose!
Cinque Terre is famous for its hiking trails and I can honestly say we didn’t even consider attempting them with Oscar, but with a carrier & a decent amount of stamina, some probably are possible. Or if your child is older, it’s probably great, but wasn’t for us!
[TT] There’s a brilliant, and frequent, pram friendly, train service that runs between the five towns all day and we used this on our first day to go and explore. We headed straight to Monterosso and it’s beach that we had heard so much about. The beach is very much a pebble beach, so grab your toddler some wee coral shoes because it is sore on your feet! We also managed to find the play park in Monterosso [TT], there’s one in each town but we didn’t look for the rest. However, this one presented itself on the promenade, plus there’s a brilliant little Focacceria across the road for getting lunch snacks!
Vernazza turned out to be our favourite and has a very small sandy beach next to the Marina, but so pretty. This is also where we got the boat from back to Riomaggiore which is a great way to see the classic Cinque Terre view. It was Oscar’s first boat ride and he LOVED it – seriously, take your toddler on a boat, they love it [TT]!
The restaurants in Cinque Terre were a bit more tourist focused, but that’s ok, the place is a UNESCO heritage site, and as expected, FULL of tourists. There’s seafood and pizza galore and lots of fresh produce lining the streets for snacking on during the day which Oscar loved. Then of course there was the old faithful gelatarias at every turn (thankfully cheaper than Florence…!)
We never made it to Corniglia, we stepped off the train, took one look at the hill we had to climb and did an about turn, but the other four towns had so much charm and it was honestly the most photogenic place I’ve ever visited – so beautiful and colourful – to the point that I was close to forgiving it for the 70,000 steps (give or take…) that we probably had to carry a pram + toddler up and down all day long.
In hindsight we tried to cram a lot into a week, maybe too much, but what we saw of Italy was beautiful. The places we visited may not have been overly child friendly, and at times it was stressful, but everyone we met made things that bit easier. As a family orientated country it’s common place to see children out in restaurants at a late hour, and everywhere we visited people were so attentive to Oscar, whether it was making sure he was given some bread to snack on the second we sat down or entertained with a magic show! This made life a LOT easier since, shock horror, sometimes a toddler isn’t too happy about being strapped into a high chair for the 10th meal in a row only to realise he has to wait half an hour for his spaghetti!
All that said, we would definitely return to Italy. If we were to do anything different though I’d say it would be great to have a hotel with more amenities as a base, for the days that we inevitably just want to chill out and play in the pool. These are the days that, coincidentally, your toddler is sick to death of being strapped into their buggy.
Did I miss the option of the baby club for a few hours of relaxation? Yeah, a wee bit.
Did I absolutely love the pizza though? Yeah, a lot.
I suppose where ever you go, travelling with a toddler will have its ups and downs but my final Toddler Tip [TT] is as long as you’re equipped with some [read: a lot] of patience, and iPad and bag of snacks you should be fine… we survived, just.